In the world of the Shine Cycle, the Dragon Empire is the longstanding enemy of “the free world,” the domain of the fallen Ayna Tashere. Because of this, it will be the setting of many scenes in the series.
Tashere is an Ayna—almost that universe’s equivalent of an angel, but the cosmologies do not correspond exactly. When he rebelled against God in the first years of the world’s existence, he seized a large swath of the larger of the two continents with which the series is concerned to be his dwelling and personal possession. And when he was brought low in the end of the War of Rebellion, much of the curse laid on him primarily affected his land.
Because of this curse, the land is highly unproductive for as long as he rules it. Smoke constantly rises from the ground, and most plants are unwilling to even sprout; those that do are generally unpleasant, and do not flourish. To make up for this, Tashere’s minions moved most of the country’s agriculture underground, into exhausted mines, where edible fungi are grown from organic wastes and the heat of the earth. In peacetime, some communities near the border have traded across the border for food.
These effects were lessened, but not removed entirely, when Tashere fell and was expelled from the universe in the War of Power. Smoke still rose from the ground, and yields were far less than in areas outside the country and thus unaffected by the curse, but traditional agriculture finally became practicable above ground.
While he remained in the world, Tashere held everyone who lived in his lands under his dominion. Willing cooperation and obedience was preferred, and he sometimes went to great lengths to corrupt a person or group, but in the most resistant cases he simply resorted to mental slavery, overriding the victim’s will. And this was not limited to sentient beings; even the larger, major fauna posed dangers to the unprepared invader (as did the force of his will). But part of the curse ensured that his domination of the minds living in each area broke when that area was conquered—liberated—by a foreign army, and it ceased entirely when he was expelled.
The land’s original inhabitants were chiefly Danani; as I explained in the post describing that race, they fell under his power with essentially no exceptions. But because a few portals opened in what became the Dragon Empire as they did elsewhere in the two continents, the population also included men, elves, dwarves, gnomes, centaurs, and even a few young dragons. All fell under either corruption or compulsion.
Some giants also came through portals, but Tashere usually killed them off rather than enslaving them, since they were of limited use to him and required so many resources to even keep alive.
As I mentioned above, the curse applied to “Tashere’s dominion,” It lessened when he was expelled, but did not cease entirely, because Tashere’s mortal protége Gondolor took power after his fall and continued to rule according to his master’s will. Those who had been unwilling slaves moved by Tashere’s will and against their own were freed, and either escaped to the surrounding lands or were put back to work under mortal compulsion spells (or the threat of immediate violence), but those whom Tashere had corrupted continued to serve him, just as they did in lands that foreign armies had liberated.
For all Tashere’s desire—ambition—for universal (and broader yet than that!) domination, the Dragon Empire never managed to extend its borders through conquest; its armies never managed to take and hold any significant amount of territory. Until the time of An Internal Conflict, when its armies rolled to an essentially complete victory—which Persephone was granted her miraculous reversal to prevent. That campaign demonstrated that if the Dragon Empire’s borders were expanded, the curse would expand to cover its newly conquered lands as well; Persephone comes to her epiphany and “moment of truth” while lying awake looking up at what would be the stars if the smoke rising from the ground didn’t obscure them.
For some reason, the curse does not apply to any colonies that the Dragon Empire has founded, or allies it has brought under its command, on other worlds among the stars above the flat world in which it lies. But Tashere’s first ambition has always been to rule that world, and he only turned to the stars when his neighbors proved too much for him alone.
The Dragon Empire used to encompass most of the southern half of the Wild Continent, with only comparatively thin strips of land—a few hundred miles, I think—separating its border from the sea. Only in the south, in the center, did it have a coastline (other than on its few and, thanks to the curse perennially dry, lakes). And there its major port is sheltered from direct access to the wide-open sea by a large island—which it at first controlled, but it lost in one of its first wars, and is now used to watch that Dragon port. Its capital (which I tend to think of as “Blazeburg,” but I’m not sure that really “works,” so it’s certainly not final) is some leagues north of that port (which the Dragon Empire’s enemies usually call Ear City). This capital was once not-quite-central to the Dragon Empire, a fair but not egregious distance south-west of its central point (which is a usually-dormant volcano), but as the country’s area has diminished it’s now merely about the midpoint between two halves.
(The northern half of the continent is—or was; it’s possible that at some point in the timeline missionaries might be sent among them, who would change their culture—inhabited by semi-nomadic tribes that regarded all outsiders alike, and responded to any invasion by boiling over any their borders indiscriminately. Perhaps Tashere regarded control of them and their land as not worth the effort it would take to hold them. Or perhaps he valued them as a useful foil—at one point his armies extended for some months a war he had lost by the simple expedient of raiding a “Barbarian” village. I’ll write more about that area and society in a later post someday.)
As I said, the Dragon Empire used to stretch almost “from the sea to the Continental River,” and “from the sea to the lands of the Barbarians.” But in every war it began, it has lost territory, usually vast quantities of it. Country after country has been carved out of it and liberated, with the Shine and Wild Empire standing as guarantor or their continued freedom. Most have freely chosen to join that Empire, though a few notable examples preferred to continue as independent allies or in “neutrality.”
In the end, one day, probably after Gondolor’s death, the Dragon Empire too will bend the knee to its Maker. But until then, its people stand in shadow, waiting for deliverance.